Egyptian Foreign Ministry shows Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry Syrian President Bashar Al Assad
This handout picture released by the Egyptian Foreign Ministry shows Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry (L) meeting with Syrian President Bashar Al Assad (R) in Damascus on February 27, 2023. Image Credit: AFP

Damascus: Egypt’s foreign minister met Syrian President Bashar Al Assad on Monday in the first visit to Damascus by a top Egyptian diplomat since the civil war began in 2011.

Assad has benefited from an outpouring of Arab support since devastating earthquakes hit his country and neighbouring Turkey earlier this month.

“The goal of the visit is primarily humanitarian, and to pass on our solidarity from the leadership, the government and the people of Egypt to the people of Syria,” Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry told reporters in Damascus.

Egypt was looking forward to providing more quake assistance in full coordination with the Syrian government - after already having donated some 1,500 tonnes so far, Shoukry added, standing alongside Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad.

“When the foreign minister of Egypt comes to Damascus, he comes to his home, his people, and his country,” Mekdad said.

The earthquake killed more than 5,900 people in Syria, the bulk of them in the rebel-held northwest. In Turkey, the death toll stands at more than 44,000.

The Arab League suspended Syria in 2011 over the government’s deadly crackdown on protests.

But a number of Arab states have shifted approach towards normalising ties in recent years.

Shoukry did not respond to reporters’ questions on whether Egypt would support lifting the Arab League’s suspension of Syria.

Sisi call

Egypt reopened its embassy in Syria in 2013, but kept Assad at arm’s length.

Shoukry met Mekdad in 2021 on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly. Following the quake, President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi spoke with Assad by phone for the first time and on Sunday a delegation of parliamentarians from around the region - including Egypt’s parliament speaker - met Assad in Damascus.

Washington has voiced opposition to any moves towards rehabilitating or normalising ties with Assad, citing his government’s brutality during the conflict and the need to see progress towards a political solution.

Saudi Arabia has said consensus was building in the Arab world that isolating Syria was not working and that dialogue with Damascus was needed at some point to at least address humanitarian issues.

Shoukry is also due to visit to Turkey on Monday, pointing to another shift in Egypt’s foreign ties.

Erdogan and Sisi met and shook hands during the 2022 World Cup in Qatar - another country with which Egypt has rebuilt relations - and Turkish companies earlier this month committed to $500 million in new investments in Egypt.